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That pesky pest…

January 11, 2015

For years I had not heeded my mom’s caring advice of having a sunscreen on or at least having a thorough wash after a good game. When I started playing for my school badminton team, my attention to the details of mundane teenage seemed to take a backstage. It was during one fine morning before the state level finals that I realised that I should have listened to my mom!

Living in Tropical India, I was used to the Sun showering his infinite sweltering blessings on us by warming, baking, sautéing and occasionally even boiling us in our own sweat. After breaking the draw in the final set and a tiring victory, I lay down to sleep in my room. I had completely forgotten to close the window, not to prevent uninvited insect guests but to stop the Sun tempered dust from entering and disrupting my relationship with our maid. A night of open windows and windy weather conditions in a place dominated by dust and grit can mean many things –

  • It will take less than 2 days to compute the volume of air in a room by measuring the volume of sand removed from the room
  • I will be woken up by our maid with putrid words whose meaning I did not know
  • And that horrible little pest will soon find a place on my face….Yes, I meant my pimple

After 17 years of a spotless clean face and even being judged as one of the top ten most desirables in class (No, I am not joking!…I still hope so), the abomination had finally found its way to me. I tried everything, from home-made fruit pulp wash to high quality lotions that single day. Nope. I had to lose that Sunday in a failing anticipation that my pest would leave that night. Having grown bigger by the night, my mom prevented me from picking and busting it. After a gut-wrenching sleep, my hopes were dashed when it still stood there mocking my every attempt to eliminate it from the very face of Man-kind…Ahem…sorry…just my face alone.

2 hours after I woke up, I stopped worrying about what’s on my face and started focussing on what I was facing – the shuttlecock! An hour of gruelling and back-breaking running across the badminton court, the nail-biting victory was something I fought for incessantly. With the victory fresh in my mind, I had totally forgotten that vitriolic pest resting on my facial surface swindling away my beauty and personality (Well, you know…).

HD Camera lenses were zooming into my face while I stood there proudly posing with my prize. I had been waiting for this moment for two whole years. It was then that it broke open… not the news that I had won the tournament, but my pesky pest. With sweat, grime, tears and other bodily fluids (from facial orifices mind you!) including the farewell ‘tears’ of the pest on my face, I smiled from ear to ear.

It’s been twenty years since I graduated from school. Even now, when I see the photos in the newspapers that heralded my triumph, I still can notice the faint streams of white mixed with red on my face. I don’t know if I remember that hard won match, but I do remember those irrationally harrowing hours of low self-esteem.

P.S. – This is purely a fictional account mixed with real life elements on a real human face!

Harry, Christena, Bengaluru!

November 12, 2014

It’s been a while since I had been to such a place. But I was sure how it would be. Adding coal to fire, my friend had painted in my mind a vivid impression with the description of his last visit to the joint – the loss of self-inhibitions, the jumping jitterbugging people with zombielike personae, the wails of ecstasy coupled with gentle supportive claps by the mesmerized and the gentle jazz like background music with garbled words in an exotic tongue. I am always self-conscious of my movements in the public. But to indulge in such activities in a closed hall crammed with people seemed to alleviate the voyeuristic afflictions of the secretive others. Yet, I decided to go…

The drivers of three-wheeled automobiles in Bengaluru consider themselves to be the descendants of Parthasarathy. However, they are like defective machines, with more (monetary) input than (locomotive) output. But Bangaloreans have adapted to the demands of these practical agents of Yama. The driver wanted a hundred rupees additional to the meter cost or one-and-a-half times the meter cost for transporting four of us to the joint. After much haggling, we came to an agreement and the transport was successful with little or no interventions from the friendly traffic police against our crowded automobile. While the driver wanted an exact change of three Rupees, I demanded, rather unsuccessfully, an exact change of two Rupees in return for a five Rupee note. Well, we don’t get what we want all the time.

Though the joint did not have the looks of a conventional one, it was rather airy and inviting on the outside. Run by an organisation with mystically incomprehensible number of branches all over the world for similarly minded fanatics, the joint was an excellent instance of persnicketiness. Despite the low turnout for experiencing the pleasures of life, we had to move slowly placing our feet in unison to the looped audio instructions in a dull and tired male voice. We were expected to repeat the words audibly heralding our ‘saviour’ from all troubles. I decided to move silently with the queue of men, women and children…

It was time for us to enter the large hall dedicated to gratify our senses. Our targets lay beneath three towers bedecked in kilograms of gold. Three individual and specially constructed rooms housed our objects of attention. Trained faithfuls lifted their hands in the felicity on feasting their eyes on the wondrous contents of the rooms. Various books hailing the philosophy of the institution’s ways of life were displayed for purchase right next to the three magnificent rooms.

Our queue had to pass painstakingly through several stalls selling the organization’s merchandise before we could reach the free medicine alleviating the associated exhaustion. Photos and videos cannot explain or convey our experiences across to a bystander. There were old women climbing over barricades to receive the medication. We could not touch the medication for it might harm the skin and leave temporary indicators of the damage it wreaks. Once our pains were subdued and our minds again straight, we left the joint as we entered it.

While we sat down in the hall containing the three rooms, exhausted and awaiting any miracles, an interesting thought struck my mind –

“While they worship a man bleeding from mortal wounds writhing in pain and close to his Father, we here worship a super Man dancing and playing a flute with women jumping around him in joy.”

And by the way, the final ISKCON prasadham of hot khichdi satiated my hunger like medicine.

Hari Bol in Barcelona followed by Hari Bol in Bengaluru!

In love with God’s own country!

September 11, 2014

I snuck out during sun set on the eve of the final day of Onam. I was going to Kerala, not because I chose to go on a vacation with a bunch of other college buddies, but on a strictly official trip. I was to meet a fellow researcher in Ecology, receive about a hundred fish from him, pack it all up and deliver it back safely to Bangalore. Seemed like a pretty much simple job at the outset. But little did I know that I was about to experience a dynamic paradigm shift in my views about life in Kerala!

Thirteen hours of train travel had assured me a long slumber and quite a long period for gazing out into the open grasslands, water-bodies and paddy fields that my small window would allow. While I kept myself busy for some period of time reading a random book on my phone, a glimpse of lovely scenery enveloping the train on both it’s sides let loose in me the (amateur) closet poet and my thoughts traveled through my hand and the ink of the pen I wielded and spilled onto the blank back region of an old folded and now invalid train ticket…

The Train

The train, fast, on it’s wrought iron wheels,

Whizzes against the mountain breeze.

Announcing it’s arrival to the vast green plains,

Startling the early pigeons and cranes.

Breaking through the paddy fields,

Wishing ‘Hello’ to the new-born seeds.

Pushing forward towards the destination,

All along with none any altercation.

Stopping at dull green platforms and

Sandy strips across the land,

In sunny, rainy and cold windy days,

The train does not halt any-time to laze

The train, fast, on it’s wrought iron wheels,

Whizzes against the mountain breeze.

Getting off at a seemingly deserted platform albeit for about twenty others from the same train, I asked around and boarded an auto-rickshaw to meet my fellow researcher. 15 kilometres of pothole filled roads with more than half of the tar and gravel leached away welcomed my arrival with a jerky ride. On reaching his house, I noticed that the house was small but had sufficient lawn space. A jack tree and coconut tree were in full season and I controlled my mouth from watering. On entry into the house, I noticed an old Gramophone, currently not in use; an old cable TV, showing some movie from the sixties or seventies; old electrical switch-boards, probably decades old; and old furniture. The contents of the house reeked of antiquity and consumeristic backwardness. It was as if time had stopped in the nineties in this small region. Having been used to the urban hustle and bustle, this little place gave me quite a shock. Before I could recover from the shock, I was served the traditional Aappams for breakfast after which my friendly host took me out on his mud plastered Apache RTR160 out on a tour of his place. Ah! The numerous wonderful rivers, streams, rivulets and creeks! The greenery! The distant hills! The cool shade and the warm sun! It was heaven for me on this Vatican of the East! Having been exposed to the rural water-transport dominated Kerali scenarios only on the silver screen (especially Cheran’s “Autograph” movie), seeing even kids manoeuvre slim boats with precise balancing and poise filled me with awe! My host showed me water logged paddy fields which would be harvestable only during one season of the year after removing the water out of the fields using large motor assisted pumps. He showed me the long “Iruttukuththi” or “Odilvalam” boats of yore, which were used by the military to pierce (“kuththi”) through the darkness (“Iruttu”) in silence while going to battle after the common-folk went to sleep. He showed me a bridge where the community would assemble during a night of floods and cook up food with much fun and frolic without difference in caste or hierarchy. The essence of Communism at the roots of Kerala illustrated so wonderfully!

He showed the local community church of St. George. While my view of St. Jordi in Barcelona was that of a white man (with a black moustache) in his shining armour riding gracefully on a magnificent horse spearing through the heart of a large vicious dragon, St. George of Edathua resembled a shorter than average black bearded white man riding on a mule, trying to pry open the mouth of a sufficiently oversized crocodilian beast. Nevertheless, the church of Edathua was itself an example of art and religion. My host explained how the Calcium rich powder extracted from ground Clam shells was mixed with the mucous rich water from large tanks containing large shoals of the snakehead fish (Channidae), to get plaster so strong that it is almost impossible to hammer a nail into the wall once the plaster sets.  The palace of Thiruvananthapuram, he informs, also was constructed in the same manner as cement was not prevalent in those times. Three levels of timber wood covered with the sand from the riverbed of Pampa to obtain a strong basement for the church is still so string that not a crack appears in the church! It is indeed fascinating to note that even the Taj mahal was constructed on a similar base as the Yamuna would not let a mighty construction on her banks. The asbestos roofed and protected grave of the saint of Edathua, Thomachchen, is also found within the premises of this church.


(St. George of Edathua)

A small town flourishes within a stone’s throw away from the church. After getting two buckets with lids, we proceeded back to my host’s home for the packaging. Before the second important meal of the day, my host’s father, a man in his middle-age, had caught a pair of large Bass in a small rivulet close to the house. We went to investigate and stood watching the others fishing for small fish in the clear water passing by the road just after a “Lemonangee” or sweet and salt Lemon soda drink. While we had a hearty lunch, my host’s better half made air-breathing holes on the green plastic lids of the buckets with a hot iron rod. With a full stomach and two buckets of fish, my uneventful and boring return journey to Bangalore began. While I returned to Bangalore, I remembered having seen “Photostat” shops instead of “Xerox” shops. Chuckling to myself about the possible anticonsumeristic (Read “Anticapitalist” or “Communist”) affiliations of the general Kerali public, I thought of Che’s motorcycle diaries while looking at a woman working in the field adjacent to the train track.

Having spent to less than 4 hours at the green (and RED) country of the Gods, I yearn to go back. I missed the final snake boat race on the Pampa, but I loved this travel! While I type this large rambling article or travelogue, my mind goes back to the scene where Thalaivar gets branded as a “Praandhan” in the film “Muththu” while asking “Irikki alaichchu oru umma tharoo

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Of Giants and Infants…

August 6, 2014

6 months of working in Spain had several effects on my perception of the world. I had fine-tuned my eyes to such an extent that a face with Indian sub-continental features would show out in high contrast against the predominantly Caucasian European faces in an extremely crowded area. Having been used to hearing Spanish and Catalan during the whole stay, I could accurately pinpoint the location of a person speaking any language spoken in India within 50 metres. My hearing ‘radar’ was so finely honed that I was able to predict the state and probably the dialect of the language spoken with good accuracy. Looking at a fat man with North Indian Caucasoid features cursing the mobile phone signal reception, I could make out that he was from Punjab from his accent, and that it was possibly the state (?) in Pakistan based on the choice of words which he used. Looking at a fair looking man with rounded facial features, I could guess he was from undivided Bengal based on how he said “Ghar” as “Ghor”. We were slightly proud and thought of our homeland very often.

During the flight back to India, the transit was at the Doha airport. Before boarding the flight, the airport was flooded with Indians. Aunties in Sarees were a sudden surprise. About a thousand people speaking in all the familiar tongues seemed like a dream. My hearing had become so sharp that I could hear couples talking some 10 chairs away. I was literally submerged in sounds. A group of people talking in Spanish nearby was the last vestige of foreign-ness around me. I felt nervous with so much of Tamil and so less Spanish around me. Mentally my ears pained me.

When we boarded the connection flight to Chennai, the whole place was filled with so much noise that I could hear bits and pieces of conversations in Tamil and Hindi. The flight safety instructions in Arabic were the only reminders of our presence in a foreign land. While my friend occupied the window seat, I occupied the aisle seat. When the flight took off, I decided to occupy myself with a Tamil movie I wanted to see a year ago. I noticed that two sharply dressed formally looking gentlemen sat to my right. My ultrasensitive hearing picked up their conversation before I placed the headphones over my ears. They spoke of world affairs…Israel and Palestine…China and India…Obama and Osama… Intellectual conversations, but I decided to watch my movie. When the movie ended after more than a couple of hours, the men were still deep in conversation…Hinduism and Caste system in India…3D printing and Apple devices…IT sector and jobs…After two meals and a siesta in between them, I could still overhear some of their conversations. I decided to stay zipped over my comments to ask them to carry on with softer voices. When the flight landed, the overhead LED indicators glowed instructing us to keep our seatbelts on. That’s when Mr. Intelligently-looking-Know-it-all stood up from my right.

“They ask us Economy passengers to sit down while they make the Business class passengers get off the plane. I say! Who follows these rules!?” said the man.

“So true, sir! So true!” replied his sycophant standing up as well.

It was 3.15 am. The man opened his bag, wore a blazer, smiled and walked away towards the exit gate to stand and wait for 15 minutes while the LED still glowed overhead telling us to keep the seatbelts on. My friend and I waited till the plane almost emptied itself of its passengers and stood up to see the whole flight littered with plastic covers. The flight attendant didn’t care. The men who travelled didn’t care. We were back. Rules were now plain guidelines. Laws were minor setbacks with loopholes. We were back in the world with many Intellectual giants but Moral infants…

The Tarot phone

June 29, 2014

We celebrated our tenth anniversary last week.  I was still a rather silent person with a calm demeanour while she was still the frank, elegant and outgoing girl I fell in love with so many years ago. But I have never understood women completely. I‘ve always wanted a pager in my mind to tell me how to react when she says she hates it when my sister comes to visit us or when she says I don’t love her as I used to. Whenever I am halfway through watching a documentary or in my final week of evaluating the year end papers, she sends subliminal messages for me to be with her. When I don’t react satisfactorily, I end up sleeping on the sofa that night. I’ve always prayed for that pager and these incidents make me want that pager even more.

We visited Spain, I for an academic conference on “Technology and Anthropology” and she on a sabbatical holiday. I met a senile looking old man at the conference who lectured on “Telepathic wireless technology”No one paid any attention to this lecture. Whackos are usually alienated and this old man looked like a patient who escaped from a mental institution. As is the way of fate, we ended up taking the last empty table during lunchtime and he started talking while I simply nodded “yes” or “no” to all his questions and comments. The conference was over and I quietly went back to the hotel.

It was when I opened the conference bag that I realised that the “Whacko” got our bags mixed up. He took my bag while I took his during the hurry to finish lunch and reassemble for the next conference session. I found his phone in the bag and found no numbers to call in his address book to inform his loss. I decided to talk to the conference authorities the next day as I had my supper appointment with my girl.

I took the bag with me to meet the conference authorities after dinner. When we sat down and she was looking in the menu, I fiddled with the Whacko’s phone. It looked like any other handheld smart phone. On the back cover was engraved in a gothic style font “TAROT PHONE”. It had a small red button next to the mike area. I pressed it and it displayed “fettuccine alfredo or veal marsala?” I didn’t know what it meant.

When the waiter arrived and asked our order, she asked me “what do you think is good – Fettuccine alfredo or Veal marsala?” I couldn’t answer her. I just sat there flabbergasted. The waiter and she just stared at me with the blank expression. I ordered the veal, ate it in silence and left the restaurant in a very confused state. She was used to my bouts of silence and didn’t mind. While on our way back, I pushed the button again. This time it showed me “Aashaa and Aashik”. I thought I understood it.

“I think we should call the baby Aashaa if it’s a girl and Aashik if it’s a boy” I said.

She was shocked beyond belief and asked me if I had read her mind. I brushed it off as mere coincidence and my knowledge of her taste. She hugged me warmly and kissed me on the cheek. This Tarot phone could make me sleep on the bed for the rest of our lives!

Once we reached the hotel room, I told her that I needed to have my usual walk outside before sleeping. Kissing her goodnight, I rushed eagerly to test my newly accidentally acquired toy on the next person I may encounter. The doorman bowed and I pushed the button.

“Ah! Here’s a bum walking out on a cold evening. How’ll he withstand the cold!?”

Surprisingly, the phone could translate Spanish thoughts into English! I yelled “Gracias” and ran and picked up my jacket before I ran on to the street. The temperature outside was 7 0C.

A man was walking out of the supermarket. ‘Click

Why do they touch the tomatoes without wearing the gloves? These Indians need some manners.

Well I use gloves Senor!” I said. He stared at me and ran away in a trice.

A policeman was on his beat. Click’

I marvel how Nature could ever find space

For so many strange contrasts in one human face:

There’s thought and no thought, and there’s paleness and bloom”

I said “And bustle and sluggishness, pleasure and gloom.”

“Wordsworth’s ‘A Character’ eh?” I asked him with a wink.

He was stunned and stared at me. I just walked away really fast from him.

A hooker was walking on her high heels and waiting for her next customer. Click’

Ah little Pedro! How many more customers before I get 50 euros to get your school fees ready!

I went straight up to her and gave her a hundred euro note. “Give this to the school” I said and kissed her on the cheek and waved Adios to her. She was shell shocked. I turned to see her crying while she smiled. She yelled “Gracias Senor! Gracias!

While my adrenaline rush from all the excitement was starting to wane, I walked back to the hotel pondering about the possible implications of this invention. I had slept through the Whacko’s lecture but it all started making sense now. Reading minds will now not be restricted to junkies and gypsies looking into crystal balls or picking Tarot cards! This technology could revolutionise the entire gambling industry! Military and spying agencies could go berserk with this device! Crime scene investigation and forensics will wrap up cases in a jiffy! Frauds of all kinds will rot in prison! NGOs would not anymore get any investigative looks when they come knocking on the door for charity! People in coma may probably be understood if they want us to pull the plug! We might even understand other animals!….Wait wait wait…Animals? Was it possible?

I decided to test this out. I saw a drunk bum sleeping on the park bench with his hairy St. Bernard. ‘Click’

Just like how my god is a big dog with with a big juicy bone, is the human god a big human with a very big couch and TV? Hmmm… I wonder!

That’s when I fainted thinking –

Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true

Of distant past…

June 27, 2014

1) X is considered as one of the best works in Tamil Islamic literature. History has it that the rich Syed Khader a.k.a. Citakkati invited the author, then a poet in a royal court, and requested him to compose a tale on the life of Prophet Muhammad and his teachings. The author accepted and but before the work could be finished, Citakkati died.  Then, Abdul Kasim Marakkayar financially helped the author to finish his work. As a tribute, at the end of each hundredth verse in X, the author paid a tribute to Citakkati. X has 5027 poems and describes tales related to the life of Prophet Muhammad. X derives its name from the Arabic word ‘Sirat’ meaning ‘biography’. Interestingly, in X, the mentioned flora, fauna and avifauna are actually found in the Tamil country, but not Arabia, the home of Muhammad.  ID the author.

2) In whose praise is this Narastuthi? (FITB)

The golden-limbed woman, yearning for your company, is waiting (for you).
Giver of riches, Son of Tulaja,
__________, Lord of emperors!
The woman asked you to come!

3) Y is a song that has a rather interesting claim to fame since 1989. It seems to have reached the status of a closing song for almost all outdoor activities in China. Many organizations play the music in a loop on their loudspeakers just before closing for the day. Despite not even knowing the name the song or its artist, many Chinese people have the urge to finish what they are doing in a hurry once this song starts playing. ID Y.

4) ID the blacked out portion.


In humanity, we must trust…

June 6, 2014

His watch showed 6.15 pm when the train reached the FGC station at Reina Elisenda. It was now the time to exit his cabin and walk back to the other end of the train and start the vehicle to commute back to Placa Catalunya. Jordi Garcia-Sanchez was used to this routine. He was working for the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the FGC, for the past 15 years. This suburban line (L6) was his duty line this year during his afternoon shifts. He liked the way the whole FGC operated. While the commuters were unaware of the FGC-staffs’ collective efforts to simplify and enhance their commuting experience, the staff had to endure the long routines during their shifts. A trip to the loo had to be cut short to the minimal possible time scale so as to stick to the strict train schedules. Of course, the occasional delays were inevitable, but the 5 minute breaks between two subsequent trips was enough to rid the intestine or the bladder of its contents or have a peaceful drag on handmade fags (cigs are expensive to buy as are).

Though the work may seem mundane to a bystander, Jordi loved his job. He wore the red jacket of his uniform with pride and felt wonderful whenever he saw FGC’s logo gleaming when he examined himself in a mirror. He could meet his buddies from work every night for beer –a bottle or two, and have a serene supper with his wife and teenage kids. He was approaching middle age, but his job had the security that others lacked since the recent sacking embroilment that followed the economic crisis in Spain. When life gives roses, it gives with them thorns. Jordi’s salary was relatively low and his savings will start diminishing once he retires from his job. He has been agitated and the conversations with his comrades often involved the need for salary raises and how the recognition of an independent territory of Catalonia will serve to alleviate the crashing local economy.

Today he was tense. Someone had stolen his wife’s purse while shopping for groceries earlier this afternoon. The increasing prices of local market goods meant that he had to curtail about 3 meals this week to break even on the family’s expenditure. He thought of how Man was losing his sanity and now his courtesy towards the rest of his kinsmen. His mind was letting lose a variety of expletives at the perpetrator of thievery and cursing him to molder in the eighth Halo of Dante’s Inferno. A soft but high pitched squeak from behind him interrupted his walk towards the opposite end of the train.


“Excuse me!” shouted the round-faced 3 year old girl running to keep up with his steps. She was no taller than the height of his thigh. She was wearing her kindergarten uniform of a yellow T-shirt (with green and red elbow patches on the right and left hand sleeves respectively) with a matching yellow skirt. Her parents and 2 older sisters were looking on from twenty yards behind her.

“Disculpe señor. Creo que alguien ha perdido su billete de tren en la plataforma. Aquí está.”

“Excuse me Mister. I think someone has lost his train ticket on the platform. Here it is.” The girl was panting in excitement and concern.

Jordi’s thoughts of the state of humanity and the simulated wails of pain of the thief who stole his meals had instantly vanished. He took the ticket and its cover.

“Gracias niña. Volveré esta al propietario.”

“Thank you little girl. I will return this to the owner”, Jordi promised the little girl with a large smile.

As he walked away in an elated mood towards his cabin at the other end of the train, the little girl ran back with a smile from ear to ear. She was satisfied that she had done a good deed in congruence with her altruistic upbringing. Her mother waited eagerly till she returned and dabbed her affectionately on the back and fondled with her daughter’s hair. She was proud to see how her daughter was growing up.

Jordi walked away with his trust in humanity restored (though he lost 3 meals); the little girl’s actions were the right things to be done in a society with rampant crimes of all magnitudes; and her mother was reminded of a quote of Khalil Gibran that she had read in high-school:

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.”


Note: The above narration is that of a true incident. The time, name and dialogs of the characters may not be true. Google translate is solely responsible for any mistakes in the Spanish quotes.

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